Taking business into account Featured

9:46am EDT July 22, 2002

Michael Neal, president of MAPSYS Inc., has been using Commerce National Bank for more than four years, yet he’s only stepped foot in its North Columbus office once.

That’s not because he uses the drive-through; the bank doesn’t have one. And it’s not because he banks at another branch — Commerce doesn’t have any of those, either. In fact, the bank’s office, in a building at 100 E. Wilson Bridge Road, has no sign outside.

How, then, has Commerce become a bank with $200 million in assets in little more than eight years? And how does Neal, who is fairly typical of most of the bank’s clients, conduct the almost daily transactions he needs to keep his computer services consulting business running?

It’s all about specialized customer service and a narrowly defined niche. Commerce only accepts privately owned, business-to-business companies and owners as customers.

Admittedly, Neal was leery about using the bank for his $15 million business because the bank was so small — with only about 400 customers.

It took Commerce president and founder Tom McAuliffe repeated calls to Neal for more than a year to convince him to become a customer. One of those calls came on a day when Neal was frustrated with his own bank, so he decided to switch. Now, not only does he conduct all of his company’s banking with Commerce, but Neal has personal loans there, too.

“There’s only two commodities in this world: money and time,” Neal says. “They’re helping me make a little bit of money, and they’re saving me time.”

Take, for example, the bank’s courier service, which Neal uses at least three times a week.

“In a small business, having someone go to the bank every day is just one more thing to do,” says McAuliffe.

The bank spends about $100,000 a year using its own couriers to pick up deposits from its customers, about half of whom use this service. The expense is worthwhile, McAuliffe says, considering the alternative: The bank would have to spend $1 million to build a new branch in another location.

Some of the bank’s other offerings:

Personalized attention. Every day, Joe Smith, owner of H&S Forest Products Inc., a nearly $35 million wooden pallet wholesaler in North Columbus, receives from Commerce a fax of his account’s canceled checks and an itemized statement.

“The main thing in business anymore is communication,” Smith says.

In addition, Smith says, the bank offers services — such as direct deposit for customer payments — to allow him to better run his business.

“This way, rather than the checks coming to us and [us] stamping them and processing them and it takes a day or two, it just goes directly to the bank,” he says.

Business information. Approximately 100 customers have requested a daily fax of business-related news. Commerce National Bank pays 25 cents a day for each customer to have this service. In addition, McAuliffe includes a bimonthly newsletter in each customer’s statement with information about the bank and business. McAuliffe also hosts educational events for clients on topics such as how to develop an advisory board.

Technology. Commerce provides customer account statements on compact disc with images of canceled checks, as well as software that allows customers to use their PCs to retrieve balances, review account activity and initiate transfers between accounts.

From Neal’s perspective, Commerce National Bank’s customer service gives him advantages he’s been unable to find at bigger banks.

“I believe I have a personal contact where I can call somebody and they know who I am and they can take action without me telling my story over and over again,” Neal says. “The second thing they do, which I really like, is they try to be aggressive in making transactions get completed with minimum time on my part. The third area is they try to give creative ideas that might save me money or help me do something more efficiently without me asking them.

“The truth of the matter is, [McAuliffe] does everything anybody else can do,” Neal says, referring to services all banks offer. “He just comes out and tells you how to use it.”

Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.